I originally wrote this up on the Facebook “Tarot Nerds” group, and someone wanted to share it elsewhere.  Instead of joining other groups just to post it, I thought I’d put it here and expand it a little. Even if you’re not interested in tarot, it’s a very brief summary of textile history and culture, which may appeal.

I’ve recently seen images of women (frequently The Empress) spinning yarn in different tarot decks. As a spinner who has read a good deal of history on early textiles, I wanted to post a little about the symbolism of it.

Before the Industrial Revolution, almost all women spun yarn. It was universally considered women’s work, in pretty much every known culture. Spinning was one of the few portable practical arts that could be done while walking or tending children. Regardless of their social status, women were expected to be spinning whenever their hands were free. So it’s a major symbol of feminine energy.

It’s also a symbol of creation. Spinners and weavers (knitting and crocheting are fairly recent inventions; knitting has only been around since the 10th century BCE or so, and crocheting since after the European Enlightenment) were the ones who made the cloth their families wore and slept on. They produced sacred cloths for temples, and sold their extra yarn to help support their families. (Unmarried women often lived on the profits of their spinning, which is why they were called spinsters.) Without spinning there would have been no clothes but furs and skins, which are ill-suited to warmer climes.

Besides creation, it’s about creativity.  In many cultures, textiles were one of the few ways women could express themselves artistically.  Spinning leads to weaving, embroidery, clothing design, and more.

Spinning was also one of the first human technologies. We’ve been doing it for 40,000 years. Until the invention of the spinning wheel in the late European Middle Ages, all spinning was done the same way — on a spindle. So there’s the symbolism in the connection to the past and to human civilization as a whole.

There is additionally the symbolism of transformation — taking fiber from plants, or hair/fur from from animals, and turning it into something practical, beneficial, and often beautiful.

Hopefully this gives you a little more insight into spinning as depicted in the tarot. If you’d like to learn more about the place of spinning and weaving in history, I highly recommend Elizabeth Barber’s Women’s Work: the First 20,000 Years. It covers spinning and weaving, and is an enjoyable read.


There is an element of the spiritual in spinning and textile arts, too.  Symbols of fertility, happiness, and protection have been incorporated into textiles since prehistory.  Some modern religious fiber and textile artists often make prayer shawls, where the creator inserts blessings into the garment as they create it.  (There are also intentionally cursed garments, but that’s something I don’t know much about…)

Mythology is full of stories about spinning and weaving.  From the ancient Greek Moirai to the Vikings’ Norns, women spun the threads of fate, wove the fabric of life, and cut them when a person’s time came.  Textile creation swaddled babies, kept the sick warm, and shrouded the dead.  It’s no surprise that it came to be important, even to the gods.

If you liked this, you may also like my piece on the world’s oldest fashion, which had magickal symbolism.


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